By Paul Canning
Six gay men arrested alledgedly to protect them from a rampaging mob in Mombasa, Kenya are to be charged with 'having unnatural sex against the order of nature' and subjected to medical examinations.
A riot started on Friday following a report in Kenya's newspaper The Daily Nation, and subsequent radio reports, of a supposed 'gay wedding' at Mtwapa, a Indian Ocean beach resort, north-east of Kenya's second city.
Kenyan gay activists say the newspaper report was based on "rumors started in a hair salon" following a practical joke and that there never was a planned 'wedding'. GayUganda reports receiving email saying that "one of our Guys made a joke last week that he was getting married to his lover, this issue has been picked by Radio Rahma and it's inciting Muslims against Gay men".
Updated Monday from this point: Kenyan Human Rights activists from the groups PeaceMaker (PEMA) and Stay Alive have researched on the ground and say:
The most repeated version is that about two weeks ago a well known and popular gay man in the Mtwapa area [16km north of Mombasa], went to the barbershop for a haircut. When one of the barbers commented that his hair looked really nice and asked him where he was going, he responded JOKINGLY that he was going to get married.
However the barber took it seriously and went to his local mosque and reported that there was a planned gay wedding set for Friday February 12th in Mtwapa. The Imam then made an announcement in the mosque that this was going to happen and instructed the congregation to start monitoring any community gatherings to ensure that there were no gay weddings.
However on the Thursday local media as well as the BBC reporter Odhiambo Joseph went to KEMRI to ask about the gay wedding, supposedly to be held at a beach resort on the Saturday. They were told there was no wedding.
Activists claim that all week presenters on the radio stations Kaya and Baraka FM had been inciting people, with Radio Rahama asking Muslims to "find these men".
On the Friday The Daily Nation published interviews with local clerics from the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) who'd called at a press conference the previous day on the government to "vet all nightclubs in the town and close down those found promoting to gay activities."
Said Bishop Laurence Chai, described as the leader of 'Operation Gays Out': "We thank God for saving this town from being turned to Sodom and Gomorra of this era as we may be on verge of being doomed had this criminals managed to conduct their evil exercise within our neighbourhood."
He claimed that gay couples from Western countries would be amongst guests at the supposed wedding, said that youths were being 'recruited' into gay clubs and that “god is about to punish the fastest growing town in Coast region”.
The clerics specifically warned the owner of a building which acts as a safe house for gay men. They called for the closure of KEMRI: “how can a state institution be involved on the pretext of providing counseling
services to these criminals”. (KEMRI provides care and treatment to all community members including men who have sex with men (MSM)).
Police drag gay man from KEMRI building and arrest him
Mtwapa residents protest
On the Friday Imams and Muftis called at Friday prayers for people to "demonstrate and to flush out homosexuals from the midst of Mtwapa and to ensure that no gay wedding took place" according to human rights activists. A spokesman for Kenyan gay group GAAI told the gayswithoutborders international network that:
A mob showed up outside the KEMRI building to demonstrate against the gay wedding and gay people in general. They pulled I believe 2 people out of the building and beat them badly. The police intervened and arrested the two ( actually possibly saved their lives from the mob). The police later went to the center and arrested I believe 3 others. So we have five arrested gay men at Mtwapa police station. The mob moved with the police to the station which is where they still are.
The KEMRI building includes a clinic where gay men were initially believed to be holding a meeting as part of a HIV Vaccine research project. Police and the mob leader, arrested one staff member pointed out as 'gay' by the mob leader because he was wearing a teeshirt promoting condom use, 'Komesha Ukimwi tumia condom', which included a pink triangle (the symbol work by gays in Nazi death camps). However the BBC reported District police officer George Matandura saying there were two men arrested and had been found with wedding rings, attempting to get married. Police and the mob returned later and arrested another staff member.
PeaceMaker (PEMA) and Stay Alive say:
A number of religious and political leaders took the opportunity to speak to the crowd. Sheikh Ali Hussein’s speech was inciting and he kept talking about Sodom and Gomorrah and the need to root all homosexuals from the Mtwapa area.Omar Masumbuko, the former MP of the area told the crowd to not bother taking gay men to the police but that they should 'take care of the issue themselves'.
Another report said that two men suspected of being a couple by residents were "flushed out" of their ransacked apartment within the town and police found wedding rings on their fingers. Activists say the police participated in the raid and were directed by the mob leader.
PeaceMaker (PEMA) and Stay Alive say:
While all this was going on Omondi (not real name) a 23 year old security guard was alighting from a matatu heading towards the center when he saw a mob walking towards him. A woman on the street told him not to go that way and two young men walking by him told him he was going to die that day.The Daily Nation said that police saved three men suspected of being "notorious gays" from "hundreds of angry youth baying for their blood" and shouting "they should be burned". The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya claimed that the Mombasa area is "drowning in drugs" and a large number of "drug addicted youths" accompanied the police.
Not knowing what was going on he immediately tried to run away but unfortunately it was too late and the mob caught up to him and beat him senseless. A female sex worker tried to protect him with her body and yelling at the crowd that they can’t just kill people like that and that he hadn’t done anything. The police arrived just in time to save his life since the mob had already dosed Omondi with kerosene and were about to burn him alive.
Omondi was arrested and taken to Mtwapa police station bloody, dazed, and unsure what had just happened to him. The police didnot offer any medical assistance and he was thrown into the cell.
GAAI reports that:
The police told [our source] that they had arrested the guys to diffuse the situation since it was getting out of hand.
The police asked the Imams to calm the youth and they agreed. The Imams were happy that the police had started arresting homosexuals and wanted them to arrest more from the clinic.
Our credible source say the men have so far been transferred from Mtwapa, a police station where they were arrested and taken, to Mombasa city, the Coastal police provincial headquarter for medical examination.The mob violence continued on the Saturday with a KEMRI worker beaten and burnt with cigarette butts. He was saved by the police after a mob member approached him with kerosene but arrested and joins five others in Mtwapa police station.
Reports say that the state has taken the steps when it emerged that they may have nothing to charge the five men in court because those who were arrested had not committed any crime against the state. They had just gathered for a group meeting .
The Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHCR) is mobilizing a response. They are identifying a lawyer to go to the police station as well as setting up systems for individuals who need medical care after they are released.
They will be at court on Monday Feb 15 and further anti-gay demonstrations are planned. Most local gay men have gone into hiding or fled. Because of the attack on the KEMRI clinic many people living with HIV/AIDS will be unable to get their medicines.
Four months ago a Kenyan gay couple married in London - an event which received wide media coverage inside Kenya. There has also been media discussion of an appeal by Kenyan gay groups for protection to be included in the country's constitutional revision.
The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) accused the media of inciting the anti-gay rioting and said that they would complain to the Media Council of Kenya.
We understand the media especially in Mombasa called upon residents to ‘stand against the pollution of culture’. In the supposed gay wedding publicised in the media, there are glaring inconsistencies that the media should have investigated before broadcasting the news.PeaceMaker (PEMA) and Stay Alive say that the mob was not a spontaneous community uprising against homosexuals, but "a much more organized event" centred on religious leaders with the police working
with them when it comes to arrests and breaking into people homes.
GALCK and other partners are considering pressing charges against the two religious leaders and the former MP for inciting the community to commit crime. Lawyers have been organised to defend the six gay men.